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North hopes to wear down foes with faster pace

The chaos of a regular season game may end up being a nice break in action for the North Medford football team this season if first-year head coach Nate Becksted has his way.

Becksted and company have been busy training the Black Tornado to put the pedal to the metal, and the results have been promising thus far.

"The kids seem to be picking it up well," says Becksted, who has eight years of head coaching experience, including the last five at Heritage High in Vancouver, Wash. "Kind of the key for what we do involves the tempo of things, and the kids are starting to figure it out. We try to play pretty fast so we practice pretty fast."

With Becksted constantly pleading for the action to go faster and faster during practice, the players dutifully have obliged in hopes that the change of pace will also deliver a change in fortune that has befallen the Black Tornado program. North Medford has not enjoyed a winning season since 2005, and that fact has escaped no one involved in the program.

"I think about that every day," says senior quarterback Zach Tanner. "Winning is all we think about."

If North Medford is to take that next step, Tanner will be an instrumental part of the process.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder took a big step last season when he assumed the reins of the offense. Tanner completed 28 of 53 passes for 307 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also ran 40 times for 106 yards and one score.

To prepare for his second season as the starter, Tanner says he went to more than a dozen football camps, essentially traveling every weekend from March through July. That experience not only has boosted his confidence, it's made him more equipped to handle Becksted's pass-happy spread attack.

"He's shown a lot of leadership," says Becksted. "He's kind of accepted the responsibility of running the show. He's very gifted physically and is a very gifted athlete, so that part is coming pretty easy for him. He's making the throws and the reads really well."

Just as important, Tanner says he's loving every minute of a four-wide scheme that creates space for playmakers and pushes the defense to its limits.

"I'm loving it, it's amazing," he says. "There's not much more you can ask for, to be able to pass every play or just tuck and go and run people over."

It's the latter that makes Tanner so unique for Becksted.

"I've had some great quarterbacks in the offense but I've never had my best running back be the quarterback," says the coach. "If we were a traditional I-back type of team, Zach would be our tailback. I think that's going to give him another dimension. He'll do a lot of things for us."

Tanner will be responsible for getting the ball to a host of receivers in Mario Saldana, Darren Cossette, Trey Garfas and Jordan Browne-Moore. Big pass-catchers Garfas (6-3) and Browne-Moore (6-3) provide a nice complement to the shifty Cossette and Saldana, and there are a host of other receivers able to fill in off the sidelines.

"We're going to line up sideline to sideline to spread things out and make teams have to defend space," says Becksted, whose team was picked fifth in a preseason SWC coaches poll. "We feel like we can find mismatches in the run game and the passing game."

Tailback Evan Hisey will be charged with providing some sense of balance to the offense, but the real key to the Tornado's season likely rests in the trenches, where North expects to field one of its biggest groups in years. Seniors Jordan Sparks (6-2, 240), Marlon Campos (6-1, 300) and Brennan Hyrst (5-11, 195) return to anchor the line, with senior Dillon Henke (6-4, 310), who transferred from Esperanza High in Anaheim, Calif., and junior Fou Polataivao (6-2, 290) helping provide the push.

Polataivao likely would've been a prominent starter last season but, as a Seventh Day Adventist, he couldn't play on Friday nights. He plans to be in uniform on Fridays this season, however, and Becksted considers him a Division I-caliber recruit.

"Everybody at the line of scrimmage has been phenomenal," says Becksted. "We have about 10 guys who rotate up front, and they've all been doing a good job for us."

Defensively, the Black Tornado expects to operate out of a 4-3 front and will get help from another key senior transfer in Willie Mobley (6-2, 215) from Mayfair High in Lakewood, Calif. Mobley should join senior Devin Nickel, Browne-Moore and Hyrst to give North a solid presence at linebacker.

"It's going to be a battle every Friday and right now that's where we are," says Becksted. "We're going to work really hard to distance ourselves, but it's going to take a little time."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Senior quarterback Zach Tanner is tasked with guiding North's up-tempo offense. - Bob Pennell